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Mar 16, 2007
Focus: Environment
Action Request: Think About
Location: United States

A catastrophic collapse of the Arctic sea ice could lead to radical climate changes in the northern hemisphere according to scientists who warn that the rapid melting is at a "tipping point" beyond which it may not recover.

The scientists attribute the loss of some 38,000 square miles of sea ice - an area the size of Alaska - to rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as well as to natural variability in Arctic ice.

Ever since satellite measurements of the Arctic sea ice began in 1979, the surface area covered by summer sea ice has retreated from the long-term average. This has increased the rate of coastal erosion from Alaska to Siberia and caused problems for polar bears, which rely on sea ice for hunting seals.

However, in recent years the rate of melting has accelerated and the sea ice is showing signs of not recovering even during the cold, dark months of the Arctic winter. This has led to even less sea ice at the start of the summer melting season.

Mark Serreze, a senior glaciologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said the world was heading towards a situation where the Arctic will soon be almost totally ice-free during summer, which could have a dramatic impact on weather patterns across the northern hemisphere.

"When the ice thins to a vulnerable state, the bottom will drop out and we may quickly move into a new, seasonally ice-free state of the Arctic," Dr Serreze said.

"I think there is some evidence that we may have reached that tipping point, and the impacts will not be confined to the Arctic region," he said.

Some studies have linked the loss of sea ice in the Arctic to changes in atmospheric weather patterns that influence such things as rainfall in southern and western Europe and the amount of snow in the Rocky Mountains of the American Midwest.

The Arctic is one of the fastest warming regions on Earth and scientists fear that temperatures could rise even faster once sea ice melts to expose dark ocean, which absorbs heat more easily without its reflective cap of ice.

"While the Arctic is losing a great deal of ice in the summer months, it now seems that it also is regenerating less ice in the winter. With this increasing vulnerability, a kick to the system just from natural climate fluctuations could send it into a tailspin," Dr Serreze said.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, changing wind patterns flushed much of the thick sea ice out of the Arctic Ocean and into the North Atlantic, where it drifted south and melted away.

A thinner layer of young ice formed in its place, which more readily melts during the warmer, summer months - leading to the appearance of a greater area of open water that absorbs sunlight and heat. The summer sea ice reached an all-time minimum in September 2005, with September 2006 the second lowest.

"This ice-flushing even could be a small-scale analogue of the sort of kick that could invoke rapid collapse, or it could have been the kick itself. At this point, I don't think we really know," Dr Serreze said.

Julienne Stroeve from the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Colorado said that the winter sea ice failed again this year to recover fully.

"The freeze-up this year was again delayed, and ice extents from October through to December set new record lows during the satellite era," she said.

Computer models suggest that summer sea ice could disappear altogether by 2080. Some forecasts even predict an ice-free summer by 2040.

By Steve Connor, Science Editor of The Independent

Published: 16 March 2007

http://news.independent.co.uk/environment/climate_change/article2362744.ece

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Posted: Mar 16, 2007 1:48am
Mar 15, 2007
Focus: Environment
Action Request: Think About
Location: South Africa

DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY FOOD MILES YOUR DINNER HAS TRAVELLED?

 

Your pizza delivery time: 15 minutes

Distance travelled: 40000 miles

 

Did you know? Supermarkets have centralised systems, which means a litre of milk can travel 100 miles from a farm to be packaged centrally and then travel 100 miles back again to be sold.

 

The dinner that you eat tonight can contribute to the floods in Asia. How? The answer is “food miles”.

Consumers in Britain and Europe are increasingly aware of how food miles contribute to global climate change.

A food mile is the distance food travels from the farmer who produces it to the consumer who eats it.

It is estimated that the average meal in the US travels over 2000 miles by truck, ship or plane before it reaches the dinner table.

The journey for each of the ingredients in our food has used hundreds, even thousands of litres of fuel.

And every litre of petrol, diesel or aviation fuel that is burned produces carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas scientists blame for global warming.

The Stern Review released in the UK in October 2006 warned that if we don’t take action now to reduce our carbon emissions drastically, it could lead to a recession as damaging as the 1930s Depression.

When we multiply our food miles by all the meals eaten daily by the planet’s six billion people, we realise the enormous amount of greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere every day just by moving food around.

 

Excess food miles are a big, big problem. The over-transportation of food comes from the belief that we should all be able to eat whatever we want, whenever we want, and to hell with seasonality and regionality.

 

Look at how far a pizza and salad meal eaten in Cape Town (South Africa) travels:

Wheat from Argentina – 4000 miles

Tinned tomato from Italy – 4500 miles

Olives from Italy – 4500 miles

Anchovies from Spain – 4500 miles

Pineapple from Durban – 500 miles

Mushrooms from Johannesburg – 350 miles

Mozzarella from Johannesburg – 350 miles

Avo from Spain – 4500 miles

Fresh tomatoes from Israel – 4000 miles

Olive oil from Spain – 4500 miles

Balsamic vinegar from Italy – 4500 miles

That adds up to a scary 31700 miles before you even bought your meal. The 12 mile round trip you made to the pizza shop made up the smallest part of your food’s journey.

AND the distances don’t take into account the miles that trucks and ships travelled to take fertilisers and fuels to farmers, or the distance the mil travelled to the cheese factory, or the miles the fishing ship sailed to catch the anchovies.

SO WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?

The most obvious thing is to buy as much local food as possible. If you support locally grown food, the local market will grow.

My suggestion is also to grow as much of your own food as possible, depending on where you live. If you can have a vegetable garden in your backyard, grow your own salad ingredients and veggies.

Be as aware as possible where your food has come from and try not to buy imported. Remember, local is best!

 
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Posted: Mar 15, 2007 11:16am
Mar 12, 2007
Focus: Environment
Action Request: Think About
Location: South Africa

WASHINGTON, March 11 (AP) — The harmful effects of global warming on daily life are already showing up, and within a couple of decades hundreds of millions of people will not have enough water, top scientists are likely to say next month at a meeting in Belgium.

At the same time, tens of millions of others will be flooded out of their homes each year as the earth reels from rising temperatures and sea levels, according to portions of a draft of an international scientific report by the authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Tropical diseases like malaria will spread, the draft says. By 2050, polar bears will mostly be found in zoos, their habitats gone. Pests like fire ants will thrive.

For a time, food will be plentiful because of the longer growing season in northern regions. But by 2080, hundreds of millions of people could face starvation, according to the report, which is still being revised.

The draft document, the second of a series of four being issued this year, focuses on global warming’s effects. Written and reviewed by more than 1,000 scientists from dozens of countries, it still must be edited by government officials.

But some scientists said the overall message is not likely to change when it is issued in early April in Brussels, where European Union leaders agreed Friday to work to cut greenhouse gas emissions substantially by 2020. Their plan will be presented to President Bush and other world leaders at a summit meeting in June.

The draft report offers some hope if nations slow and then reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, but it says what has been happening has not been encouraging.

“Changes in climate are now affecting physical and biological systems on every continent,” the report says, in marked contrast to a 2001 report by the same international group that said the effects of global warming were coming. But that report mentioned only scattered regional effects.

“Things are happening and happening faster than we expected,” said Patricia Romero Lankao of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., one of the many co-authors of the new report.

The draft document says scientists are highly confident that many current problems — change in species’ habits and habitats, more acidified oceans, loss of wetlands, bleaching of coral reefs and increases in allergy-inducing pollen — can be attributed to global warming.

For example, the report says North America “has already experienced substantial ecosystem, social and cultural disruption from recent climate extremes,” like hurricanes and wildfires.

But Ms. Romero Lankao said that global warming soon would “affect everyone’s life,” and added that “it’s the poor sectors that will be most affected.”

Another co-author, Terry Root of Stanford University, said, “We truly are standing at the edge of mass extinction” of species.

The United Nations-organized network of 2,000 scientists was established in 1988 to give regular assessments of the earth’s environment.

The draft report says that hundreds of millions of Africans and tens of millions of Latin Americans who now have water will be short of it in less than 20 years. By 2050, more than a billion people in Asia could face water shortages. By 2080, water shortages could threaten 1.1 billion to 3.2 billion people, depending on the level of greenhouse gases that cars and industry spew into the air.

It says that death rates for the world’s poor from conditions worsened by the changes global warming brings, like malnutrition and diarrhea, will rise by 2030. By 2080, 200 million to 600 million people could be hungry because of global warming’s effects, it says.

It also says that Europe’s small glaciers will disappear, with many of the continent’s large glaciers shrinking sharply by 2050. And half of Europe’s plant species could be vulnerable, endangered or extinct by 2100.

The hardest-hit continents are likely to be Africa and Asia, with major harm also coming to small islands and some aspects of ecosystems near the poles. North America, Europe and Australia are predicted to suffer the fewest of the harmful effects.

“In most parts of the world and most segments of populations, lifestyles are likely to change as a result of climate change,” the draft report said. “Net valuations of benefits vs. costs will vary, but they are more likely to be negative if climate change is substantial and rapid, rather than if it is moderate and gradual.”

Many, though not all, of those effects can be prevented, the report says, if within a generation the world slows down its emissions of carbon dioxide and if the level of greenhouse gases sticking around in the atmosphere stabilizes. If that is the case, the report says, “most major impacts on human welfare would be avoided; but some major impacts on ecosystems are likely to occur.”

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Posted: Mar 12, 2007 10:53am
Mar 12, 2007
Focus: Environment
Action Request: Think About
Location: United States
Protocol Is Cited in Limiting Scientists’ Talks on Climate
Subhankar Banerjee, via Associated Press

Polar bears are shifting their migration routes, coming close to villages.

Published: March 9, 2007

WASHINGTON, March 8 — The director of the Fish and Wildlife Service defended the agency requirement that two employees going to international meetings on the Arctic not discuss climate change, saying diplomatic protocol limited employees to an agreed-on agenda.

Two memorandums written about a week ago and reported by The New York Times and the Web site of The Seattle Post-Intelligencer on Thursday set strict parameters for what the two employees could and could not discuss at meetings in Norway and Russia.

The stipulations that the employees “will not be speaking on or responding to” questions about climate change, polar bears and sea ice are “consistent with staying with our commitment to the other countries to talk about only what’s on the agenda,” said the director of the agency, H. Dale Hall.

One of the two employees, Janet E. Hohn, is scheduled to accompany a delegation to Norway led by Julia Gourley of the State Department at a meeting on conserving Arctic animals and plants.

Tina Kreisher, a spokeswoman for the Interior Department, parent of the wildlife service, said the memorandum did not prohibit Ms. Hohn from talking about climate change “over a beer” but indicated that climate was “not the subject of the agenda.”

The other employee, Craig Perham, an expert on polar bears, was invited by the World Wildlife Fund to help advise villagers along the Siberian coast on avoiding encounters with the bears, said Margaret Williams, director of the Bering Sea program of the fund.

With increasing frequency, polar bears are being found near the villages of the Chukchi in part because their migrations have shifted as warming trends alter the sea ice.

In 2006, after a 15-year-old girl was killed by a marauding bear, the local groups reached out to Russian scientists and the World Wildlife Fund for help, Ms. Williams said. She asked the Fish and Wildlife Service to take along Mr. Perham to seacoast villages less than 250 miles from Alaska to offer his expertise.

A memorandum on Feb. 26 said Mr. Perham “understands the administration’s position on climate change, polar bears and sea ice and will not be speaking on or responding to those issues.”

Mr. Hall, the director, said in an interview Thursday that “these memoranda could have been better worded,” but that requiring strict adherence to a set agenda had “been a longstanding practice.”

Asked for the formal agenda of the Russia meetings, Ms. Williams of the World Wildlife Fund said no such document had been negotiated.

“There was,” she said “an invitation letter from us to the Fish and Wildlife Service. It always talked about human-bear interactions.”

Top-down control of government scientists’ discussions of climate change heated up as an issue last year, after appointees at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration kept journalists from interviewing climate scientists and discouraged news releases on global warming.

The NASA administrator, Michael D. Griffin, ordered a review of policies, culminating in a decision that scientists could speak on science and policy as long as they did not say they spoke for the agency.

In April, John H. Marburger III, President Bush’s science adviser, sent the new NASA policy to more than 12 agencies urging them to follow suit.

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Posted: Mar 12, 2007 10:34am
Mar 12, 2007
Check this out - a beautiful website dedicated to the amazing women of our time.

http://www.npg.si.edu/cexh/woot/
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Posted: Mar 12, 2007 9:00am
Mar 12, 2007

This article appeared in the New York Times, written by Andrew C. Revkin dated March 8th.

Internal memorandums circulated in the Alaskan division of the Federal Fish and Wildlife Service appear to require government biologists or other employees traveling in countries around the Arctic not to discuss climate change, polar bears or sea ice if they are not designated to do so.

In December, the Bush administration, facing a deadline under a suit by environmental groups, proposed listing polar bears throughout their range as threatened under the Endangered Species Act because the warming climate is causing a summertime retreat of sea ice that the bears use for seal hunting.

Environmentalists are trying to use such a listing to force the United States to restrict heat-trapping gases that scientists have linked to global warming as a way of limiting risks to the 22,000 or so bears in the far north.

It remains unclear whether such a listing will be issued. The Fish and Wildlife Service this week held the first of several hearings in Alaska and Washington on the question.

Over the past week, biologists and wildlife officials received a cover note and two sample memorandums to be used as a guide in preparing travel requests. Under the heading “Foreign Travel — New Requirement — Please Review and Comply, Importance: High,” the cover note said:

“Please be advised that all foreign travel requests (SF 1175 requests) and any future travel requests involving or potentially involving climate change, sea ice and/or polar bears will also require a memorandum from the regional director to the director indicating who’ll be the official spokesman on the trip and the one responding to questions on these issues, particularly polar bears.”

The sample memorandums, described as to be used in writing travel requests, indicate that the employee seeking permission to travel “understands the administration’s position on climate change, polar bears, and sea ice and will not be speaking on or responding to these issues.”

Electronic copies of the memorandums and cover note were forwarded to The New York Times by Deborah Williams, an environmental campaigner in Alaska and a former Interior Department official in the Clinton administration.

“This sure sounds like a Soviet-style directive to me,” Ms. Williams said.

A spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska, Bruce Woods, confirmed the authenticity of the notes, but interpreted them differently.

“The cover memo makes it clear nobody is being told they can’t talk about these issues,” Mr. Woods said. “What the administration wants to know is who is going to be spokesperson and do they understand administration policy? It’s not saying you won’t talk about it.”

Limits on government scientists’ freedom to speak freely about climate change became a heated issue last year after news reports showed that political appointees at NASA had canceled journalists’ interview requests with climate scientists and discouraged news releases on global warming.

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Posted: Mar 12, 2007 8:56am

 

 
 
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Nicole Bekker
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